Eddie Jones shows faith in old guard as England regulars toil for their clubs

first_img Since you’re here… Share via Email Jones has so far remained loyal to his players: of the side that started his first match, the 15-9 win at Murrayfield in February 2016, only George Kruis has been discarded, and that is likely to only be temporary following the second-row’s loss of form after the Lions tour to New Zealand. It is the undercard that has changed and, if few of England’s starters have impressed in recent weeks, those that have include Henry Slade and Sam Simmonds, along with the Exeter flanker Don Armand, who came on as a replacement in the first Test against Argentina last summer but has not featured since.Jones should have Billy Vunipola and Maro Itoje by the start of England’s Six Nations campaign, in Rome on Sunday 4 February, players adept at providing the quick ball George Ford thrives on at fly‑half, but while the head coach talks about making history by winning the Six Nations for a third consecutive year, New Zealand will rarely be far from his thoughts. They have what he covets and everything is geared to overhauling them. Jones said last week he was not fixated by club form, a blessing for most of his regular starters who, apart from the Bath full-back Anthony Watson, have not excelled since the autumn series. The six from Northampton and Leicester went into this weekend’s round of league matches in search of their first victory since returning from England duty and the Saracens contingent had to wait a month.“I watch club rugby to assess how players are going to be at international level,” says Jones, making the point that some excelled at the one and not the other. He could have cited the former England batsman David Gower, whose bat flourished far more often in the Test arena than at sparsely attended county cricket grounds. “Dylan brings something we need at the moment, strong leadership.”That may be a factor behind the surprise recall of James Haskell who, at 32 and with the demands placed on his body catching up with him, looked to have played his last Test when he was left out of the squad in the autumn. The absence of Sam Underhill with concussion aided his return but no more than the self-belief and willpower of a player who has Japan 2019 in his sights rather than international retirement. Twitter Share on Facebook England, New Zealand and Ireland are the only nations to go into 2018 looking equipped to reach the World Cup final Share on Messenger Facebook Eddie Jones’s hunt for Test animals spells danger for Danny Cipriani and co Share on LinkedIn Dylan Hartley has struggled for Northampton recently but Eddie Jones values his leadership presence. Photograph: Henry Browne/Getty Images for Harlequins Support The Guardian Read more Share on Pinterest … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. 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Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Before Eddie Jones’s England players returned to their clubs after the final autumn international, against Samoa on 25 November, the head coach said he expected them in the following eight weeks to show their desire to be part of a World Cup-winning team in 2019 by producing world-class form. However, few of the 31 who gathered in Brighton at the start of last week for a training camp before the Six Nations have stood out in the seven rounds of league and European matches since then, not least his captain, Dylan Hartley, who has succumbed to the malaise afflicting his club, Northampton, notable only for his mistakes.Last weekend against Harlequins the Saints fielded six of Jones’s previous selections and conceded 50 points for the second time at Twickenham this season, making it just as well they are unlikely to return there for the Premiership final in May. Hartley missed five of the 10 tackles he attempted but the England head coach is not minded to drop the hooker who has led England to two Six Nations titles and through two unbeaten autumn campaigns.center_img Six Nations Share on Twitter Sportblog England rugby union team Read more England, New Zealand and Ireland are the only three tier-one nations to go into 2018 looking equipped to reach the World Cup final. Australia are rugby’s version of Arsenal, gung-ho to the point of regarding defence as an optional extra; Scotland are stirring but judgment on them will be suspended until after their opening Six Nations match in Cardiff, given their poor recent away form in the championship, with only three wins, two in Rome, this decade; Wales have stalled while South Africa and Argentina have regressed; France are weaker than they have been for more than 60 years and Italy are starting over under Conor O’Shea.It will be a testing year for Jones because of the potential José Mourinho effect. He is the most demanding of coaches, expecting excellence and pushing his players and management team to the limit and beyond. If he strikes gold, he immediately looks for more, never resting or content. While his players quickly responded to his methods, it is the point when a message and an approach become familiar that separates the best coaches from the rest. Mourinho’s way tends to work for three years before flames burn out; Jones needs an extra one. Topics Rugby union Beno Obano: ‘I didn’t want to be sitting in the City just telling stories about Maro’ Pinterest features Eddie Jones Jones has lamented the lack of leadership qualities in players who emerge from academies cosseted and cocooned, one reason for the retention of Hartley and the recall of Haskell when, to some, the hardened oaks have reached their fell-by date. England lost only one of their 10 Tests last year but they tended to play in patches, fortified by the winning habit.Jones wants his players to solve problems as they arise but from Italy’s ploy of not contesting rucks and so not drawing an offside line to Samoa winning turnovers and penalties at the breakdown because England were often outnumbered, that day is yet to come. Samoa was the first match in which Jones started with Jamie George, the Lions hooker, ahead of Hartley, but while the Saracen made an impact, England were not collectively stronger in the absence of the captain, who remains his master’s voice.Jones said last week that the year before a World Cup is “when you win or lose it”. He spent his first two years in charge assessing his options, still looking out for players he has just enough time to mould into contenders for Japan, such as the Harlequins fly-half Marcus Smith and Bath’s loosehead prop Beno Obano, whose impact is equal in the tight and the loose, and lying in wait in November will be the World Cup holders and the one team ahead of England in the world rankings, New Zealand. Share on WhatsApp Reuse this contentlast_img read more